This month’s Apex Magazine cover artist is Daniele Serra, winner of the 2017 British Fantasy Award for Best Artist. Serra’s love of B-movie horror can be seen in his gothic, striking works of art, a mix of genres and styles with a unique vision.
APEX MAGAZINE: Your art style is a fascinating cross between detailed realism and abstract designs, but not always overt horror. Do you find that people try to classify your work in certain ways, be it style or genre? Do labels for artists, in general, make unique interpretations more difficult?
DANIELE SERRA: It seems to be quite common to label everything. Often, being hard to label can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it rewards creativity and recognition, and on the other, too much deviation from the classic, commercial avenues can make a career difficult, and make it hard to find people willing to publish you. I think I’m in a middle ground; I’m not too original, but I’m often told that I’m recognizable, so that’s okay! Anyway, in general I am associated with horror and the gothic, which are actually the themes that I mostly deal with, but I have to say that I think my works have a very strong romantic matrix.
AM: This month’s Apex Magazine cover piece was originally commissioned for Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror from Dark Regions Press, a collection representing some of the best female weird fiction authors working today. How important is it in today’s market to hear more from female and other underrepresented creators? As you are working on pieces for a project like this, does that importance change your methods or thoughts?
DS: It was a project that I felt strongly about. I really liked the idea and the desire on the part of the curator to put together many genre writers to create this anthology. Living in Italy, I do not know the situation of writers in the US and in the rest of the world very well. In Italy, the horror and science fiction genres are considered masculine. But I think it is only linked to a cultural phenomenon that is gradually ending, thanks to many writers and readers who are changing the situation. For this project, I worked as I always do: the story and its feelings are the only ones in the foreground when I work, regardless of who the author is.
AM: Your galleries have a number of pieces based on the works of Clive Barker, including your piece based on Candyman. Does working with someone as respected and popular as Barker increase your confidence or, on the other side, make you a little more nervous about the piece?
DS: Absolutely nervous! Especially when I work on characters that were the base of my adolescence. It seems like a dream to be able to work with Clive Barker, and when he gave me the opportunity to play with Candyman and Nightbreed, I was thrilled and very nervous. As a teenager, I was fascinated by them, even today I love them a lot. Candyman, in particular, was a film that kept me from sleeping for three nights as a child! So being able to create the poster was a strange feeling that made my hand tremble a little, but at the same time it filled me with pride; a feeling as if the circle finally closed.
AM: One of the articles on your website features new Dark Souls comic art in progress. What challenges are added to the publishing process when working in a traditional medium like watercolors? Have you had to change anything after you have completed a page, and if so, how do you approach that?
DS: Working on comics and illustrations with watercolor is complicated because you do not have much margin of error (although I am convinced that error is something that maybe does not exist, but this is another matter). We say that you cannot change too much, once you’ve colored it, here! As a result, it can be problematic when the editor asks for changes, but fortunately it rarely happens. In any case, the times that happened, I had to start from scratch and it’s not a bad thing because usually, when I do the same thing twice, the second time I get better at a technical level. Maybe it loses something in terms of freshness and gesture, maybe it’s less effective and more automatic. But repeating the same image allows me to understand some things that maybe escaped me in the first draft.
The approach starts with a quick sketch that is presented to the editor, then I move to a definitive pencil that is also viewed, and finally I go to the full realization with the watercolor. I always try to keep clear the areas that must remain white inside the work, because they are the ones that should not be touched by the brush since the white in the watercolor is mainly given by the paper. At least this is my working method. It counts that my watercolor technique is a little atypical. I use only a little water, and not for a light and veiled result, but very decisive and intense.
AM: Your website mentions that you have been published across the world, including Europe, Australia, Japan, and the United States. Are there major differences in publishing methods between the different regions? Have you felt the need to adjust your style or content based on the audience that will see your work?
DS: I try to always be myself as much as possible in every situation. When I try to change my style or to think about the work differently, the results are much lower quality than when I let go and allow my natural approach to work. I never had to change my approach depending on the country I worked with, because my style is quite characterized. So, when a publisher wants to work with me it’s because he wants this type of illustration. Also, the sketch-pencil-watercolor scheme always remains the same in the approach to work.
AM: Thank you to Daniele Serra for a fascinating look at his intriguing artwork and process. Be sure to visit his website for more fantastic visions at https://www.multigrade.it/.